Six years ago, when our foster daughter Teenasia was two, we had to give her up for Lent. She had lived with us just over a year at the time, and over the course of that year, her biological father took the parenting classes and met the conditions the court required for her to be placed in his custody. We knew that the timing of the return was such that she would be moved from our house right before Easter. That Lent stands out as the most difficult of my life. Week by week, Teenasia began spending more and more time with her biological father. A full day. An overnight. A weekend. Two weeks before Easter, my husband and I and our two sons, then five and nine, said goodbye by blessing her with the Irish prayer of “May the road rise to meet you,” and buckled her into the car seat in the back of the social worker’s car. I remember waving as the car turned the corner, hoping that the Children’s Court judge knew what he was doing in putting T in her biological father’s custody, but not really believing that he did.
It was my belief in the Resurrection that got me through. We went on vacation with the boys that spring break and happened upon an amazing Mass on Easter Sunday. The congregation was beautifully multicultural; the readings and homily were radiant with life; the music inspiring. Yes, the Mass said to me, yes, Jesus died on the cross. But now he lives. I thought of T and hung onto the Resurrection.
Two more Lents and Easters passed by. We received another foster child, Jamie, and adopted her. She wore a pink frilly dress for her first Easter with our family and a blue one for her second. I wondered if Jamie was our Resurrection.
Then suddenly, in the summer of 2006, Teenasia was detained from the custody of her father once again. She was once again placed with us. Maybe this is it, I thought. Maybe this is her Resurrection. But after six months with us, her father once again met conditions for her return. And we once again said goodbye, did our Irish blessing, and sent a tearful T back to her father. And at that point, I really thought I had my Resurrection theory all wrong.
After T had been back with her father about six months, the Court told us there was no chance we’d ever see her again. “The placement is absolutely stable,” Teenasia’s court-appointed guardian said. “I have no reservations about the return of this child to her biological father.” Bill and I knew he was dead wrong, but had no legal recourse.
As distraught as we were with Teenasia’s return to her biological father, we knew there was still profound need in the foster care system for adoptive parents, and decided it was time to adopt another child. We went through the licensing, the home study, the interviews. We requested that our placement be a girl, younger than Jamie, so as not to disrupt the birth order. And on the very day that we were supposed to be placed with a new child— just over a year since Teenasia had been taken away from us that second time— our little girl was once again detained from the custody of her biological father. “She needs placement right now,” the emergency-placement social worker said over the phone. “Can you take her?”
Teenasia was sitting at our kitchen table a half hour later. And once again, I believed in the Resurrection.
This Lent, T has been with us a little over two years since she arrived for that third time. Her biological mother and father have court-ordered no-contact with T. Milwaukee’s Children’s Court system has scheduled a trial to terminate their parental rights in early summer. T is eight now, and lives with wounds I will never fully understand. But she also exhibits joy, resiliency and faith that I wouldn’t have believed possible, if I had not experienced them firsthand. Our family’s journey with T has been our own passion—a cycle of suffering and new life. We are still awaiting the Resurrection. Still waiting to adopt Teenasia. This Lent, we may get several steps closer. And next Lent, we may be all the way there.
Teenasia has forever changed Lent for me. She has changed how I view waiting; and how I view suffering. Because of my daughter, I better understand the weight of a cross and why Jesus fell three times. And because of my daughter, I pray I will one day better understand the Resurrection.
Many people talk about giving up something for Lent or trying to start something new and good. And I see the value in that—I’ve done it myself and I’ll do it again. But another approach to Lent is to take a look at an existing desert in our life; and to enter into that desert rather than try to sidestep it. Lent can be a time to acknowledge the weight of the cross we’ve been asked to bear and to give ourselves completely to the job of carrying that cross. Accept the suffering. Take on the suffering. But most importantly, believe that the suffering will lead to new life. Will lead to Resurrection.